When To Worry if Your Canker Sore Won’t Heal (Plus What To Do)
Canker sores are painful and frustrating, but if your canker sore won’t heal within a few weeks, it can become nerve-wracking as well. Why is your canker sore lingering, and what should you do about it?
To answer these questions, it helps to first identify the type of canker sore in your mouth. Each common type of canker sore behaves differently and causes unique symptoms. If your canker sore won’t heal, here’s what you should know.
Common Types of Canker Sores
It’s important to understand which type of canker sore is causing your pain and discomfort, especially since the different types take different lengths of time to heal.
Common Canker Sores
A standard canker sore, or aphthous ulcer, is a shallow, white lesion with inflamed pink borders that develops inside the lips and mouth. These sores are typically 1-4 mm in size, but aggressive sores can be larger than 5 mm.
Though often confused with cold sores, canker sores are not contagious; they’re simply uncomfortable. Fortunately, small canker sores can heal within seven to 10 days if treated properly.
Complex Canker Sores
The most obvious difference between a regular canker sore and a complex canker sore is the size. Complex canker sores grow to 5 mm or more. Unfortunately, they also linger much longer.
Instead of healing on their own over the span of one or two weeks, complex canker sores continue to create pain and discomfort in your mouth for up to six weeks at a time. It’s important to know that complex canker sores may be accompanied by other seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes
These complications indicate that your complex canker sores could be more than an oral health issue. They could be signs of a more serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
Herpetiform Canker Sores
Herpetiform canker sores are the least common type of aphthous ulcer, occurring in less than 5% of all people with canker sores. They earned their name because herpetiform canker sores resemble herpes blisters in appearance, despite being unrelated to the herpes virus.
Herpetiform canker sores are tiny blisters that occur in clusters of up to 100 within the mouth, including:
- On the inside of the lips
- On the roof of the mouth
- Inside the cheeks
- Under the tongue
- At the base of the gums
This type of mouth ulcer causes a tingling or burning sensation before the sore itself forms. After a herpetiform canker sore emerges, you may also notice these symptoms:
- Tiny clusters merge into one large, painful canker sore
- Ulcers are white or yellow in color
- Ulcers have irregular edges
Fortunately, herpetiform canker sores typically heal by themselves within one to two weeks, so additional medical attention is rarely required.
How To Handle a Canker Sore That Won’t Heal
If your canker sore won’t heal, watch for certain signs that indicate you should consult your doctor:
- New canker sores develop before others have healed
- Large canker sores show no signs of healing after one week
- You have frequent, recurrent canker sore outbreaks
It’s possible that your canker sores aren’t random, but are a symptom of a larger underlying health issue or disease. Non-healing canker sores are often traced back to root causes such as autoimmune diseases, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or allergies.
The Best Methods To Prevent Canker Sores
As you work with your doctor to uncover the specific cause of your ongoing canker sores, you can take certain measures to reduce new outbreaks and ease the pain of existing ulcers.
Choose Your Foods Carefully
Do your best to stay away from known canker sore trigger foods, especially if you’ve identified a certain food that irritates your mouth. These acidic foods are the most common culprits:
- Gluten (if you have a gluten intolerance)
It’s important to select foods rich in nutrients like iron, zinc, folic acid and B vitamins. Canker sores are often caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies, so loading up on nutrient-dense foods and taking a supplement may decrease the frequency of your canker sore outbreaks and help existing ulcers heal quickly.
Revamp Your Lifestyle
Poor lifestyle habits weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to prevent and heal canker sore outbreaks. If you really want to avoid future canker sores, it’s important to improve your sleep and stress management techniques.
First, build healthy sleep patterns to give your immune system the extra strength it needs:
- Create a soothing sleep environment
- Reduce technology and blue light before bedtime
- Develop a consistent evening routine to wind down
- Get regular exercise during the day
Then combat the enemy of sleep and health — stress — with these stress management techniques:
- Mindfulness breathing
- Changing your surroundings
- Helping others
- Delegating small tasks to others
- Talking to a professional
Get Tested for Autoimmune Diseases
Your immune system is designed to work with your body to protect against foreign invaders, but for people with autoimmune diseases, that’s not always the case.
If you’re frequently plagued by canker sores and other unresolved health issues, an autoimmune condition may be the cause.
Celiac disease, for example, is a severe autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself as soon as gluten enters the digestive system. These attacks make it harder for the small intestine to absorb essential nutrients.
Over time, untreated celiac disease creates serious health complications, including numerous oral health issues. This is why celiac disease is closely linked to complex canker sores, enamel defects and excessive tooth decay.
By working with a trusted medical professional to test for autoimmune diseases, you can confirm or eliminate the possibility of an autoimmune issue triggering your chronic canker sores. This will also help you identify the best treatment methods for your unique circumstances.
Improve Dental Hygiene
The soft tissue inside your mouth is sensitive, and the introduction of new dental devices like braces or dentures can irritate the tissue in your mouth. If you’ve ever had braces, you know how painful those metal brackets rubbing against your inner cheek can be. This type of irritation rapidly leads to canker sores.
You can manage this canker sore trigger by using dental wax to shield your cheeks and gums from braces and other dental appliances. It’s also important to brush and floss regularly so that sugar and acid don’t accumulate and cause even more inflammation. When you brush, do so gently so you don’t irritate sensitive oral tissues.
Use the Luminance RED
If you’d like to try a new therapy to help your canker sores heal faster, treatment with red light has shown promising results in clinical studies. For example, one study concluded that light treatment reduced the average healing time of canker sores from 8.9 days to 3.1 days.
The Luminance RED is an FDA-registered device that harnesses the power of medically optimized light for managing painful canker sores. Research has shown that this therapy not only shortens the healing time of canker sores, but also reduces the pain they cause and decreases their frequency of recurrence.